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Cultural Change in Construction: Developing the Client's Management Role to Improve Project Performance

This project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Swindon, UK. Grant reference number GR/L01206.

Forming part of the EPSRC's Innovative Manufacturing Initiative, the main aim of this research project was to examine innovative management techniques being used in the construction industry that are intended to promote collaboration and overcome the adversarialism that has historically been a feature of contracting relationships within the industry. In particular, the research was concerned with assessing the benefits and limitations of clients pursuing strategies (often labelled 'partnering') which involve them taking a more proactive part in the management of construction work.

The project directly involved a number of major clients and building contractors, including AMEC Process and Energy, BA, BAA, BG, BOC Process Plants, BP International, John Laing Construction and PowerGen. The research itself was based upon case studies of major projects undertaken by these and other firms in the offshore, process plant, building and civil engineering sectors of the industry. The case studies was selected to enable comparisons and contrasts to be drawn across quite different settings and each was explored in depth using qualitative research techniques.

Although much work had been done that had expounded upon the virtues and theoretical benefits of partnering, this research went further by exploring the phenomenon of partnering in practice and in depth. Taking an in-depth view allowed much greater sensitivity to be shown to the effects of context and also helped uncover the multiple and often conflicting meanings, assumptions and expectations that lie behind the approach. In particular, it highlighted the important potential impact of power relations and the effects of internal organisational complexity upon external dealings associated with project management processes.

The analysis of the case studies developed this more critical approach to understanding partnering in practice, by demonstrating the multiplicity of factors that made achieving inter-organisational collaboration a more or less obtainable goal. These included variability in economic and market conditions that can affect project goal alignment and orientations towards partnering; internal cultural norms and values and structural conditions that may or may not support attempts at collaboration; and the availability of effective integrative mechanisms, especially those reliant upon information technology. The final report was submitted in January 1999.


Journal Articles

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2002). 'The engineering or evolution of co-operation? A tale of two partnering projects', International Journal of Project Management, 20 (7), 497-505. - link

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2001). 'Understanding the diffusion and application of new management ideas in construction', Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 8 (5-6), 335-45. - link

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2000). 'Building partnerships: case studies of client-contractor collaboration in the UK construction industry', Construction Management and Economics, 18 (7), 819-32. - link

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2000). 'Motivation, commitment and the use of incentives in partnerships and alliances', Construction Management and Economics, 18 (5), 587-98. - link

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2000). 'Partnering in construction: a critical review of issues, problems and dilemmas', Construction Management and Economics, 18 (2), 229-37. - link

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2000). 'Partnering in construction: case study evidence from the UK', Construction Paper 121, Construction Information Quarterly, 2 (3), 17-21. 

Published Conference Papers

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (2000). 'Learning to co-operate and co-operating to learn: capturing knowledge of partnering in construction', in A. Akintoye (ed.), Proceedings, ARCOM 16th Annual Conference, Glasgow Caledonian University, 6-8 September 2000, Volume 1, pp. 313-23.

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (1999). 'Achieving customer satisfaction?  Client-contractor collaboration in the UK construction industry', in P. A. Bowen and R. D. Hindle (eds), Customer Satisfaction: A Focus for Research and Practice in Construction, Counseil International du Batiment (CIB) Joint Triennial Symposium, University of Cape Town, South Africa, 5-10 September 1999, pp. 177-85.

Bresnen, M. and Marshall, N. (1998). 'Partnering strategies and organisational cultures in the construction industry', in W. Hughes (ed.), Proceedings, ARCOM 14th Annual Conference, University of Reading, 9-11 September 1998, Volume 2, pp. 465-76.



Project Team:

Mike Bresnen
Nick Marshall